The Undergraduate, Episode Five

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Previously . . .

In 1628 Matthias Ehrenhardt was orphaned at the age of fourteen, when his family home in the small village of Vehra burned to the ground. To have any sort of future, he was forced to leave his Heimat, the place where he grew up and truly belonged, and go live with his aunt Grete Ehrenhardt and her husband Berthold Felbers, a businessman and political leader in Eisenach.

By 1634 Matthias has completed Latin secondary school and his first year at university, with the intention of studying law. During a visit to his old friends and relatives around Vehra, he informs his childhood sweetheart Dora Hammelin and her father Thomas Hammel that he has changed his career plans with Uncle Berthold's agreement, and he is now on his way to Magdeburg to pursue chemical engineering at the new Imperial College of Science, Engineering, and Technology.

It becomes clear during the conversation that Matthias and Dora hope to eventually marry, when they can both afford to. Thomas has no confidence that this new profession he doesn't understand will bring Matthias financial success, though he wishes him well. Thomas forbids betrothal until Matthias proves himself in the world.

In Magdeburg he shares a cramped lodging in a rooming house in the industrial district west of the wall with Germund, a mechanical engineering student from southern Norway.

Meanwhile, the Hammel family's situation has improved. Thomas has been appointed Adelmeister smith at the new flax mill in Sömmerda. The water-driven mill is being equipped with 18th and 19th century textile machinery, as rapidly as it can be recreated. He obtains a position for Dora in the mill office, a much better opportunity to build her dowry than domestic service.

Imperial Tech is stuffed into odd crannies of the Latin school building in the old city, a monastery in previous centuries. The down-timers among the student body need to catch up to the up-timer high school graduates in mathematics; the up-timers need to learn Latin. His first day brings the start of an algebra course, taught in German by Lennon Washaw. He is able to begin class work in chemistry simultaneously, since advanced math isn't a prerequisite.

Matthias and Germund help each other keep up.

At the mill, Thomas is suddenly confronted with a Grantville-built metal-working lathe, owned by Hannes Dirck Bosboom, the civil engineer in charge of building the mill and bringing it into operation. Bosboom's mechanic, Gregorius Hochuli, was supposed to install the lathe and use it to make and modify mechanical parts as needed to get the mill up and running, but he staggered into the mill race and drowned. Thomas does the best he can with no manuals and no experience with modern precision machine tools. He gets it to work, but not well.

Meanwhile, Georg and Friedrich Fritsche, owners of a blacksmith shop a few miles from Erfurt in Bischleben, are getting inquiries for metal parts they can't make at any reasonable cost or production rate by traditional methods. Friedrich goes to Grantville to investigate whether it's true that the shops there could do the work, if they weren't overloaded with orders. He returns with Karl Reichert, one of the newly trained machinists. Karl advises them that their water power could run a small machine shop. They decide to make the investment, and they hire Karl to run it and teach them the new methods. For the first time in his career, Karl finds himself with nobody to go to for advice. He must find his own solutions.

In part 2 . . .

Imperial Tech's chemistry department under the leadership of Allen Dailey acquires a bankrupt laundry outside the city wall and remodels it into a temporary teaching lab. The apparatus is sparse and somewhat temperamental at first, but the students begin getting vital hands-on experience.

Dora gains respect and additional responsibilities at the flax mill, along with a wage increase. Her dowry grows faster.

Karl Reichert attends the wedding in Sömmerda of his friend Fritz Wedemann from his early days in Grantville. During a break in the dancing at the reception, he overhears Thomas Hammel describing his difficulties using Hannes Bosboom's lathe. He offers his help, and teaches Thomas and Dora the correct way to install and set up the machine. His kindness impresses the Hammel family, coming as they do from a village where kindness and compassion were a central part of the local culture. Dora's lively intelligence appeals to him.

By the end of the term, the chemistry students are ready to try analyzing samples. Raimund Treck proposes to analyze an ore sample from his second cousin's mine in the Harz Mountains, instead of a standard teaching sample from lab stock. Professor Dailey allows it, but asks Matthias if he would like to work on the same sample, so that there will be an independent analysis for comparison. Matthias agrees. It's nominally a copper ore, but they find sulfur, some silver, traces of gold, and several other elements.

Raimund proposes to Matthias that they start a venture during summer vacation to extract the silver and gold from the smelted copper using electrochemistry. It seems simple. Matthias is torn between independent study at home in Eisenach to shorten the time to earn his degree, versus trying for early profits from separating the precious metals. He's becoming concerned that he might not be able to demonstrate to Thomas Hammel that he can earn a decent living as a chemical engineer, by the time Dora accumulates her dowry. He dithers, then decides to take the risk. Raimund persuades Jupp Fimbel, an Imperial Tech student in the electrical trades, to join them.

Through the summer the three partners encounter and overcome one difficulty after another, sinking more and more time and money into the business. By August they have a shop in the village of Gräfenstuhl, and a steady source of electricity from the generator at a mill run by Gerd Hartmann and his wife Marta Seidelin. They get their first revenue from the sale in the Mansfeld commodity markets of a cartload of high-purity copper. As they overcome problems after problem, the chemistry grows more complex, and the work of maintaining the line increases. Profits are thin.

In Sömmerda the flax mill is running into machine repair problems they can't handle with just a lathe and a drill press, and then Bosboom moves on to his next project and takes his machine tools with him. The mill begins sending work to the Fritsche Brothers shop. Thomas and Dora go there several times to handle the business arrangements and technical consultations.

September comes, and Matthias faces a decision that can no longer be put off. Return to college and push on full speed for his degree, or put his efforts into ramping up production at the electrolytic refining shop. Matthias agonizes, then stays.

Dora is getting concerned that Matthias' few letters are all about the business and the technical progress, with nothing personal in them, and he hasn't visited in close to a year. Thomas understands that the problems and the hard work are weighing on his mind, and just hopes Matthias hasn't made a mistake.

By now there is enough anode residue to begin the long-anticipated work on silver separation. One by one, they get past a new series of obstacles, at the cost of more time and money.

Personal notes are starting to find their way into the correspondence between the Fritsche Brothers machine shop and the Sömmerda mill. Some of Karl's stories set the Hammel family laughing.

Early in December Matthias and Jupp are anxiously hovering over an experimental benchtop silver separation setup, watching the first favorable results appear.

But a freight wagon is due, and Jupp goes outside to stack their stock of refined copper for shipment. He slips on a muddy patch, and falls on a sharp piece of metal sticking out of the ground. He gets a puncture wound in his left calf. Matthias cleans and bandages the injury and advises Jupp to take it easy until it heals. But by dawn Jupp is in pain, and the area around the injury is tender, red, swollen, and hot to the touch. Jupp's moaning wakes Matthias, who immediately recognizes that the wound has gone septic and Jupp is in mortal danger. The nearest competent help is at the new hospital in Magdeburg. Raimund wakes up village carter Oswald Weckesser to rush Jupp to the Kloster Mansfeld railroad station.

Jupp's condition deteriorates visibly during the short ride to town. Matthias runs ahead to buy the tickets and appeal to the station agent to do anything possible to make sure he and Jupp get on the next train, already approaching. The agent runs up to conductor Karl Alpendorf on the platform and explains what's happening. Alpendorf recognizes that this is a dire emergency, and makes the decision on his own authority to hold the train and incur the resulting disruption of rail traffic up the line. When Jupp arrives a few minutes later on Weckesser's horse, Alpendorf rushes him and Matthias aboard, and hands the telegraph operator a message to the division dispatcher as the train begins to roll.

In part 3 . . .

The faraway dispatcher holds a southbound freight at Stassfurt so Karl Alpendorf's passenger train won't be sidetracked further south for it to pass. He brings Magdeburg Memorial Hospital into the stream of telegraph messages:

 

SEND PATIENT NAME AND SYMPTOMS

 

Matthias writes the reply.

Jupp's lower leg turns darker and the pain grows worse.

At Aschersleben there is another message from the hospital.

 

RECLINE X SUPPORT AFFECTED LIMB HIGHER THAN HEART X GIVE FLUIDS X

 

Karl finds Jupp a place to lie on the floor next to one of the coal stoves, and he and the passengers do wht they can to make him comfortable.

Karl cuts short the breakfast stop at Stassfurt to make up some time. Now Jupp's leg is turning an ugly bronze color, and something is seeping into the bandage. His pain is worse. Karl would run the train faster if the track could stand it, but it can't. The station agent at Salbke saves two minutes by manning a door.

As the train approaches Magdeburg, Matthias asks Karl whether there are carriages for hire at the station, or any other way to move Jupp to the hospital. Karl tells him the train dispatcher and the hospital have made arrangements for a special stop at the nearest street crossing.

A horse-drawn ambulance is waiting. EMTs Ernst Boch and Janusz Lewicki come aboard with a stretcher and pick Jupp up as gently as they can. Jupp screams at the first touch.

As they come through the front door of the hospital, Nurse Susie Hunsaker is ready and waiting. She recognizes gangrene as soon as she has the leg exposed. She sends for the on-call surgical team, high-dose IV antibiotics, and Doctor Vittorio Di Benedetti, the hospital's expert on infected wounds. As they wheel Jupp into the operating room, the discussion turns to the cost of all the treatment. Jupp signs a statement permitting Matthias to use his lab skills to manage the IV apparatus, so that the hospital won't have to provide a technician round the clock for the next week.

Matthias writes to Dora with the unhappy news that the long-awaited Christmas visit to Sömmerda and Eisenach is no longer possible.

He writes to Aunt Grete, and mentions in passing that work on extracting silver must stop until the business can afford it once again.

For the next week Matthias works the night shift, regulating Jupp's IV apparatus while healing proceeds, saving the cost of covering that period with a hospital employee. Nevertheless, the bill mounts rapidly. Meanwhile he studies the procedures for the physical therapy he'll be helping with later. One morning at the end of his shift he brings a letter to the mailroom, and finds it open. The clerk sees his name on the return address, and gives him a letter that came in two days earlier, forwarded from Raimund at the shop. It's from Dora, telling him how much she's looking forward to his visit. Has his letter reached her by now? Should he send a telegram?

A more philosophical letter arrives from Aunt Grete, praising his loyalty to his partner, and asking for the details of the refining process. She's thinking of investing in the business, if a small infusion of capital would get them through the experimental stage and into extracting silver and gold.

Finally Matthias no longer needs to spend long hours by Jupp's bedside. Susie suggests that he coordinate the craftsmen needed to design and build the ankle brace Jupp will need because of the amount of muscle mass he's lost, saving the cost of someone else doing it.

Finally, the hospital's work is done, leaving a heavy debt. Matthias and Jupp are able to return to Gräfenstuhl and Raimund, to take stock and begin the long recovery from all that's happened. They go to work, shipping product, making process improvements, and keeping up Jupp's physical therapy. After a month or so a letter from Dora arrives. Matthias nerves himself to open it, not knowing what to expect. But Dora is understanding. And sad.

In Sömmerda, Karl Reichert arrives for a meeting with Thomas Hammel, the mill's factor Christian Folte, and the head of textile crafts Siegmund Pels. The management is happy with the machine work Karl has done for them, and they're disappointed with their machinery supplier's progress. They want Karl to help them develop a flax spinning machine by making mechanical parts to try out. He suggests building a test bed that can be rapidly reconfigured to test ideas as they develop them, rather than attempting to build a whole machine without knowing in advance what will work. A look passes between him and Dora as lunch is delivered to the conference room. Thomas invites him home for supper. Another pleasant evening follows.

In Gräfenstuhl, the partners discuss Aunt Grete's offer. She will finance the development of the silver extraction step if they file incorporation papers and issue shares to her. They accept. After more experimental work, the process finally yields a small but steady output of silver. They begin depositing it to the company account at the bank in Mansfeld, paying the current bills, and slowly paying off the hospital.

Then the spring rains come, stopping traffic on the roads while the mud lasts. When the wagons can move again, the ford has been washed away. Wagons can't cross the river. There's a ford at a new place, but there's no road there. All the shops and mines are cut off, with bills to pay and no revenue.

Karl is coming to Sömmerda more often now, to deliver experimental parts and observe the tests. He and Dora are seeing more of each other.

Erhard Faulstich, the Amtmann for the Mansfeld stift, calls a general meeting of the residents and masters west of the river to decide on a course of action. He barely manages to keep order and achieve a consensus. Raimund's suggestion is agreed upon for lack of a better solution: make plans for a permanent stone bridge where the road is, but throw up a crude wooden one as fast as possible, to last until the permanent bridge is ready. The project will be financed by a temporary special tax, to be paid in money or in labor. Raimund and Matthias contribute labor.

Inevitably, the payments to the hospital fall behind schedule. Raimund worries that if word gets around that they're not paying their bills, the whole business could collapse. On the recommendation of one of his relatives, they secure a business loan from the Hamburg banking firm Schickelgruber und Muntz, to tide them over until they can bring in raw copper and ship refined metals again. While the bridge work continues, Matthias starts experimental work on the gold extraction step, which involves considerably more chemistry.

And finally the temporary bridge is able to carry wagons. Raimund tries to arrange a copper shipment, only to be told that every wagon on the road has its eastbound runs booked for the next week. One of the wagoners offers a westbound load in three or four days. Jupp says take it, so they can at least get some raw material into the tanks again.

In part 4 . . .

With not even a wheelbarrow available to carry copper to market, the partners run the line as fast as possible just to get anode slime to process for silver. That, they can carry out on their backs. Then, they make a crucial mistake. Instead of depositing the silver at the bank in Mansfeld and sending a bank draft or a telegraph money order to Hamburg for their overdue payment, they send the silver itself. Albrecht Schickelgruber smells blood in the water, and moves to invoke penalty clauses in the loan contract and foreclose on the entire business.

Matthias sends a copy of the notice and the loan contract to Uncle Berthold, asking for advice.

A rare angry confrontation erupts between Berthold and Grete, when she reveals that she has a large portion of her money tied up in TEF Metals, Inc. stock, and he reveals that he had been counting on her money for their share of the capital in the Werra Hydroelectric project which he has been instrumental in organizing. Their own financial future is now balanced on a knife edge. They exchange stiff apologies for not properly consulting each other, and then sit down to figure out how to salvage the situation.

Meanwhile in Sömmerda, the mechanical test beds are producing encouraging results. Thomas invites Karl to attend the blacksmith's guild dance with his family when he visits again.

After a rapid exchange of telegrams, Berthold makes an expensive and dangerous charter flight from Eisenach, survives a close call during a failed instrument approach to Magdeburg, lands at a mountaintop government communication station, and finally arrives at the Hartmann mill in Gräfenstuhl aboard an army supply wagon. He shepherds the young men through a tense creditors' meeting in Mansfeld, using his decades of business experience and force of personality to forge a deal that allows the business to survive and continue paying off the loan. To satisfy Schickelgruber and his partner Egon Muntz, he is forced to agree to send his talented young assistant, Stefan Gerstner, to take charge of the corporation's business affairs. Raimund and Jupp will handle the technical work.

Berthold commands Matthias to return to Eisenach as soon as Stefan is adequately oriented at TEF Metals, and take over as much of Stefan's work as he can. The behind-the-scenes dealings for the hydro project are now at a critical stage, and losing Stefan's help at that moment puts him in a precarious position. He will not allow Matthias even a day to take a side trip up to Sömmerda to see Dora and her family. All Matthias can do is send her a letter.

In less than two weeks Stefan reports that the loan is paid off and a plan is in place to catch up with the rest of the company's bills. He used his business knowledge to identify the proper markets for their refined copper, and for the large stockpile of zinc they had been unable to sell, which proved to be of very high purity. Then he reports that it would be more profitable to stop work on silver and gold, and instead concentrate on electrical grade copper, zinc, and sulfuric acid as their major products, selling the process residues to a specialty refiner. Berthold gives Matthias and Grete an earful about going into business without first learning how to run a business. They both absorb the lesson.

Thomas Hammel has been watching how Dora and Karl talk and act together. He tells him that for Dora's future security he requires that she marry a master craftsman who has his own shop. Karl is taken by surprise at the revelation that Thomas is willing to take him seriously as a suitor.

At the end of the summer Berthold is able to let Matthias return to college, traveling by train all the way from Eisenach except for a side trip on foot to his old friends and relatives around Vehra and Henschleben—and Sömmerda. He's late, arriving after church has already started. When he finally meets Dora and her mother at the end of the service, the encounter starts off awkward and stays that way, in spite of everyone's best efforts. Over dinner he explains that he will concentrate on his education from now on, and not risk any more lost time. Studying through the summers, he expects he can finish in a little over three years. Between the further three-year wait before any possibility of marriage, the missed visits, the sparseness of the letters, and the absence of an emotional spark of romance, Dora is disappointed and frustrated. Matthias' confidence has been shaken by the events of the last year, and Thomas misinterprets his admission of business mistakes and becomes even more worried about Matthias' long-term prospects. The Sunday dinner is a special one, and enjoyable, but Dora never hears what she's been listening for. Communication during a long walk along the river afterward is no better. They have both grown in the past two years, but in different directions.

Matthias returns to the station at Erfurt and resumes the trip to Magdeburg. Just before the city he passes the new campus, where a couple of buildings are already in use. Not the chemistry department, as yet.

The same day Karl arrives in Sömmerda with the next set of test bed parts, this time a spinning and winding mechanism. Thomas invites him home for dinner with the family and Dora's friends from the mill Heidi Meinhart and Sabena Geller. They chat over the leftovers from Sunday dinner and the things Dora's friends brought. Thomas reads aloud after dinner from the Erfurt newspaper Karl wrapped the machine parts in, while the girls do some of their mending. All in all, it's a pleasant evening.

Episode Five

"Shall I blow out the lamp now?"

"Yes, go ahead, Thomas. I've been thinking. I'm glad you brought Karl home. It gave me a chance to watch him with our Dora. Did you see the way he looked at her and listened to her?"

"At Dora? It seemed to me he looked at all of them. Us, too." Thomas settled into bed and took her in his arms.

"Well, yes, he noticed they were there, and talked politely with them. Heidi is prettier, I suppose, but it was Dora he kept coming back to. I wonder if some of it is because he can talk with her about what you all do together. After all, Heidi and Sabina aren't smith's daughters. Dora hasn't said much, but anyone ought to be able to see that they like each other. And you said yourself you could take him seriously as a suitor."

"When he's established in his own shop, yes. But he's mentioned that he's been saving all he can, and I've heard that machinists can almost name their own wages, there are so few of them. The Fritsches have nobody better to head their machine work, though he's still a journeyman. So he might manage it before Dora has enough of a dowry."

"So, should we encourage it?"

"Why put our thumb on the scales before we have to? While they're still getting their feet under them, they can get to know each other better, and we can watch how he behaves and understand him better, before we have to speak. We haven't known him from childhood, the way we have Matthias. I would never worry about how Matthias would treat her. I only worry whether he will succeed in this new trade."

"Matthias is why I'm asking your thoughts. I can't make Matthias out these days. I don't know whether he came again after all this time, only because of a half-promise in his own mind. Dora is upset. She doesn't know what to think."

"You think he isn't sure about her any more? Well, maybe you have better eyes for that than I do. But I think all we can do with either of them is watch and wait. Watch, especially."

"Well. Maybe so. I'm glad your cold is getting better. Sleep well." She turned on her side, and her breathing slowed.

****

Dora dreamed of birds singing in a tree at the edge of a sunny field. As the mists of sleep vanished in the light from the window, she really was hearing a bird singing outside. Then the church bell chimed. She hurried to wash her face and hands. One of her dresses needed washing, but there wasn't time now. She put on the other and went downstairs. Mama had a pot of porridge and some broth, keeping hot on the back of the stove.

"Good morning, Dora! You must have slept well. Your cheeks are all rosy this morning."

"That must be from the cold water I washed with. But yes, I slept like a hedgehog in the frost time. I always feel happier after some good company, don't you?"

"Well, unless the company is certain people I won't name, I do, especially if there's singing. So last night's company made you happy? Never mind, I can see you smile. Here, I'll fill a bowl for you. Your father has already gone to the mill, and he'd like your help keeping good notes, if they don't need you right away in the office."

"Oh, they must be starting early because Karl can only stay until just after midday. All right, I won't dawdle."

Mama didn't say anything more, but her eyes twinkled.

 

Magdeburg

 

Papers signed. Fees paid. Time to sit down with his faculty adviser and work out a class schedule for the fall term. Matthias was a little nervous about what kind of a welcome he was likely to get from Professor Dailey, after being absent from college for more than a year. But . . .

"Hello, Matthias, good to see you back here. I hear you had quite a rough introduction to the working world. I wish I'd thought a little more before suggesting that ore analysis to you. I had no idea where it was going to lead."

Matthias gave him a relieved smile. "Well, it wasn't you who talked me into going for the gold. So to speak. But Uncle Berthold made my ears ring about making a plan and sticking to it. After what happened, I had to admit there was logic to what he said, however he said it. So now the plan is to finish my degree before I do anything else. And he thinks I should study some business while I'm here, to go with it. Accounting and finance, at least, whenever it will fit in."

"Hmm, not a bad idea. We could take a look at when you might be able to do that, without slowing down the core curriculum. Whether you go into business yourself or work for somebody, you'd be more valuable if you understand money and management. For this term, though, let's put together a course list you can take here in town where the lab is, so you don't lose half your time running back and forth to the new campus. Math is still your bottleneck, starting out without the courses the Grantville high school kids get. Let's see . . ." He studied Matthias' transcript for a few seconds. "What do you say to taking the algebra and trig exams unofficially this afternoon, so we can see whether you need a little refresher tutoring before we drop you into calculus and analytic geometry? I'd really hate to have you get swamped."

 

Zur Gelben Ente

 

The two men sitting beside young Raimund Treck were influential enough, a patriarch in the Treck mining family and the county administration's Amtmann. For a tiny firm, TEF Metals, Inc. seemed to be attracting notice in the world.

"This appears to be more than a stockholders' meeting, Stefan. You have some things to tell us?"

"Yes, Herr Felbers, Frau Ehrenhardt, I'll get right to business. You've been asking when and how your investment capital can be retrieved. We are now able to give you an answer."

"We look forward to that with great interest. The recent dividends have been very welcome, but they come slowly."

"Yes. Well, I've been able to find enough investors to purchase your shares, Frau Ehrenhardt." He glanced around the table. But there was something in the way he said that, and his posture . . . and here it came. "As I'm sure you're aware, I have some savings, and as soon as I properly understood what this business can become, I made the decision to save as much of my salary as possible. Now, I don't have enough cash of my own on hand to buy out your whole investment, and I would consider it imprudent to borrow that much. So I must combine with others. Hence Herr Augustin Treck, here, and Herr Erhard Faulstich, who each have their own reasons to join, and Herr Raimund Treck, who is of course already a stockholder. Herr Fimbel declined to make an offer today, preferring to invest in further education at the college next year, and of course you're well acquainted with Herr Matthias Ehrenhardt's financial position. But between us, we are prepared to offer you all that you invested."

Berthold stared at him for two seconds, trying to decide what to respond to first. "Are you telling me you intend to drop everything and make a career of this? You have no intention of coming back to Eisenach, with all that was left undone?"

"I would have gone on my own some time soon, Herr Felbers. Working under you was always an apprenticeship in business, even if it wasn't called that. If any of this surprises you, it should be only that this is the time, and not some other. This is too precious an opportunity to let slip away."

"By Jesus, what if the Werra project slips away? There is much to do, and little time to do it in!"

"I know the situation well enough. The capital is what you need the most, and we offer that here and now. But if you truly need me at a critical moment, I can get away for a few days at a time, now that things are in proper order here. You taught me the value of good will in business, and I believe we each have reason to keep the other's good will."


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About Jack Carroll

I’m a semi-retired electronics engineer, with 40 years of extremely mixed experience, mostly in industrial and medical electronics. I’ve had a ham license for 50 years; present call sign is W1PK and I work 2 meter and 440 MHz FM.

Other major interests (besides science fiction, of course) are American history, technology in general, music, photography, and getting out and appreciating nature.

I’ve written roughly 50 songs, about half of them sea songs and half filk, with one 1632 song stuck in writer’s block (“I Work at Braun & Scharff”).

Published works are in the NESFA Hymnal Volume 2 and Northeast Passages, probably available through www.massfilc.org. My chosen instrument of torture is 12-string guitar.

I do some beta testing for the Debian Linux project. Military service was with the U.S. Air Force, 1965 to 1969, 18th Comm Squadron, Westover AFB Mass. I live with my wife and our cat in Nashua, New Hampshire.